The photo above is my ‘shofar,’ an instrument made out of a ram’s horn, which is a traditional part of the Rosh HaShanah ceremony. Personally, I am unable to make any sound come out of the shofar, but both of my kids are quite adept at it. Don’t ask me how they learned it — I have no idea!
Today is the Jewish holiday of Rosh HaShanah, which is the Jewish New Year. According to Jewish tradition, Rosh HaShanah is the anniversary of the creation of the world. In Hebrew, we say L’shana Tova U’metuka (שנה טובה ומתוקה) — meaning for a sweet new year.
As the New Year, Rosh HaShana is a celebratory holiday, but there are also deeper meanings as well.
Jewish tradition teaches that Rosh HaShanah is also the Day of Judgment. On Rosh HaShanah, God is said to inscribe the fate of every person for the upcoming year in the Book of Life or the Book of Death. The verdict is not final until Yom Kippur, 10 days later. Thus, Jews spend this time (called the ‘Ten Days of Awe’) reflecting upon their actions over the past year and seeking forgiveness for transgressions — all in hopes of influencing God’s final judgement.
Well, the truth is that I am not very religious. I don’t think of myself as a believer. And yet, I completely identify as Jewish. For me, a cultural connection to Judaism without a deep connection to some sort of deity is completely comfortable. But I frequently find myself in the position of explaining it to people who seem to think that there are only two extremes: completely religious or completely secular.
Why should I have to choose?
On Rosh HaShanah, I choose to spend the day in the synagogue. I choose to sing the ancient melodies of my ancestors (out of tune, but there’s not much I can do about that!). I choose to think about the past year, paying particular attention to the things I could have done differently. I choose to consider the person I want to be, the person who I believe I can be, and changes I might make to get closer to that ideal.
I do these things because I believe they are good for me. I also believe that my family, my community, and the world around me benefits when I take this time for self-reflection. Some sort of belief that God, god, the gods, or any sort of deity will strike me down if I do not do these things — well, that just doesn’t factor into it.
[And I just want to say… others may choose to do these things for different reasons. Or, they may choose to do some of these things, or none of them. And that’s fine, too, of course.]
So tonight, I’ll be enjoying Apple Cake made from my grandmother’s recipe. And I’ll say the ancient prayer:
And I’ll also say my own prayer:
May the new year bring
health, happiness, joy, and peace
L’ Shana Tova U’Metuka